Brooklyn Boro

Legislation that would have allowed taller NYC buildings is shot down, for now

June 21, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
More buildings like this 1,066-foot-tall tower, planned for 340 Flatbush Ave. Extension, would have sprouted up around the city under legislation derailed this past week. Rendering by SHoP Architects

State legislation that would have allowed significantly taller buildings throughout much of the city, including Downtown Brooklyn, was derailed this week after community and civic organizations, including the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA), mounted a last-minute opposition campaign.

Assembly Bill A7807, introduced by Harlem Assemblymember Keith Wright (Senate version S5469 was introduced by Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder), would have removed restrictions on the size of residential towers.

The BHA said in a statement that the introduction of the bills “without any public fanfare by Mayor de Blasio, allied with the backing of the real estate industry, was seen by critics as a stealth approach to loosening land use controls and fostering more massive development.”

The BHA credited community members and organizations, which swung into action to keep the legislation from moving forward. The group lauded state Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, both of whom represent the Brooklyn Heights area, for “their active role in opposing this legislation.”

“I opposed this measure in light of the community’s concerns about the impacts on density and the need for local engagement,” Sen. Squadron told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday. “I’ll continue to push to ensure community concerns are engaged,” he added.

“Changing the current zoning rules in the City of New York without careful dialogue, public input along with intelligent design and urban planning would be a disservice to all the citizens of New York,” Assemblymember Simon said. “Significantly changing zoning rules that have been in our city for more than 50 years is an issue that deserves a very thorough vetting process.”

She added, “Quality affordable housing is a great concern of mine for our city and I believe that a community based planning approach is best. Be assured that I am watching this issue attentively.”

The rule centered on the formula called floor-area ratio, or F.A.R., used by developers to compute the allowable size of any building based on the size of its lot. Currently, residential buildings can have an F.A.R. of up to 12; a 3,000-square-foot lot, for example, can be occupied by a 36,000-square-foot building (working out to roughly 11 to 13 stories).

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Individual neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights have additional height restrictions. Downtown Brooklyn does not. Without the F.A.R. in place, the same 3,000-square-foot lot could have a 22 to 26-story building. A 40-story building, currently restricted by F.A.R., could become an 80-story building.

The bill allows the F.A.R. limit of 12 to be ignored where there are not additional height and zoning restrictions. Developers would have to seek rezoning to push past F.A.R. of 12, however.

While the City Council would be required to approve the rezoning, community groups are concerned that the large projects would be approved without regard to “infrastructure needs and issues of scale and livability,” the BHA said.

This is not the end of the story, the BHA warned.

“Despite being killed this session, many expect it to be resurrected during the next legislative session,” the group said.

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Updated June 22 with a statement from Assemblymember Simon.

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